Within the first 10 minutes of the Brumbies-Hurricanes game on Saturday night, it was obvious what had been missing from Super Rugby matches at Canberra Stadium.
And while the game only featured three tries, the scoreline of 12-10 does little to reflect the high entertainment level of the game for which we can thank the Kiwis.
New Zealand teams play rugby as it should be played: at pace and with a genuine desire to play the running game.
Saturday night’s game was a welcome relief from some of the games served up in Super Rugby AU, which involved the five Australian teams playing each other twice.
If you take into account a pre-season trial and a qualifying final, the Brumbies played the Western Force four times during the 2021 season.
With no disrespect to the Force, the quality of the game against the Hurricanes had more highlights than the four games against the Force combined.
It is why the Brumbies and Australian teams need to be in a combined competition in 2021, not the ‘tack on at the end of the season’ series we have at the moment.
Another aspect is the affinity Canberra rugby supporters have for New Zealand teams. The standard of play increases markedly when Kiwi teams are involved, as evidenced by Saturday night’s game.
Five of the top nine Brumbies Super Rugby games, in terms of crowds at Canberra Stadium, involve New Zealand opponents.
The most favoured of the Kiwi sides is the Crusaders. This is on the back of a rivalry stretching to the early 2000s. Not one single game this year so far involving the Brumbies exceeded a crowd of 10,000.
The game against the Hurricanes at Canberra Stadium deserved 20,000 but failed to attract an audience, due partly to the perception that the competition was already over after the Brumbies lost the first three of the five-game series in New Zealand before returning home.
Another issue was the Brumbies hadn’t played a game in Canberra for five weeks, which made it difficult for continuity.
It was a problem the Brumbies encountered when returning home to play in Canberra after three weeks away in South Africa. The season almost required a kick-start to get it moving again in the minds of supporters, many of whom hadn’t seen the team play either in person or on television for over a month.
The perception that New Zealand teams were far superior had been driven hard in the media, and in some cases, this was justified given the points leaked by the Waratahs.
But it was overblown.
The Brumbies had a chance to draw the game against the Crusaders in Christchurch, just as Jordie Barrett had the opportunity to win the match against the Brumbies twice in the final three minutes.
In 2017-2018, Australian teams lost 40 games in a row against New Zealand sides in Super Rugby.
This season so far, Australian teams have won two from 20 against the Kiwis.
I am sure if the Brumbies were playing New Zealand sides regularly, week in week out, the statistics would be far more favourable.
This is why Australian teams need to be in a combined Super Rugby competition with New Zealand for the entire year, not the current Trans Tasman Series, which was the only solution to ensure games were played during COVID-19.
Another looming factor, possibly as soon as next season, is the introduction of Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika, with the New Zealand Rugby Union indicating a desire for the two teams to come into Super Rugby.
Playing New Zealand and possibly Pasifika and Fiji regularly as part of a Super 12 competition is essential to improve rugby as an entertainment product more than anything else.
The five Australian teams playing each other twice worked to a point for the past two years because of COVID, but I am not sure it can be sustained for another season.